Re: Is the Common House a Public Building?
From: Laura Fitch (
Date: Mon, 20 Dec 2004 07:22:18 -0800 (PST)
Joani et al,

There is absolutely no other way that the common house can be interpretted
in Massachusetts (or Vermont, Maine, or NY) code other than as a Public
Building.  It is a building with public access.  I don't know about you, but
we REGULARLY have political and social events - things like soccer parties
where the community at large is invited to.

Even in the case of a condominium project, Massachusetts code would require
that all the public areas (lobbies, halls, laundry rooms, common room) be
public in terms of handicap ACCESS and EGRESS.  There are bizarre ways of
getting around some requirements, such as putting doorbells in the lobby
instead of at individual doors, etc.

That does not necessarily mean that there cannot be areas in a common house
(in Mass) that are for residents only.  That is how we handleds the basement
of Pathways Cohousings common house - They agreed to limit access to
residents only, and to install a lift at any future date where the basement
was opened for others.

The inspector doesn't care how toilets are used (male vs femaile) AFTER the
fact.  They just want the total toilet count to match the intended use.  In
most cases, the intended use of a common house includes big parties and any
code dictated occupancy count will probably determine 2-4 toilets needed.
I've never seen ANY requirement for stall type toilets vs individual toilet
rooms in any code that I can think of.  In large communities, the code
usually requires 2-3 toilets which we handle in 2-3 toilet rooms (1 of which
is handicap accessible - the non-accessible toilet rooms can be VERY SMALL).
Stall type toilet rooms may be a good solution for a building that requires
many toilets - but I do not think they are appropriate for a typical common
house - where you want privacy and a residential feel.

Kitchens - we usually find it is not a case of public vs private, but
commercial vs. residential.  The inspectors do not want to see any frying.
If you intend to fry things - then you will definately need a fire
suppression hood.

Best, Laura

Laura E. Fitch, AIA
Principal Architect

Kraus-Fitch Architects, Inc.
110 Pulpit Hill Road
Amherst, MA  01002

413-549-7918 (fax)
lfitch [at]
----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Joani Blank" <joani [at]>
To: <cohousing-l [at]>
Sent: Friday, December 17, 2004 10:52 PM
Subject: RE: [C-L]_ Is the Common House a Public Building?

> I am surprised to hear that you had to consider your common house a public
> building.  You aren't serving public meals there. You are serving meals to
> residents of your community on a part of the property that belongs to all
> of you,  How is that any different from any one of  your neighbors having
> bunch of his/her neighbors in for dinner at his/her house?  Or folks who
> live in a conventional condo having occasional--or even regular--potlucks
> in their community room. I'm also surprised to hear about the requirement
> for stall toilets. Did they require you to have separate men's and women's
> bathrooms too?
> Joani Blank
> Swan's Market Cohousing
> Oakland, CA
> Eileen McCourt wrote:
> As far as I know, we were able to avoid the health dept. rules for a
> "commercial" kitchen, but we do meet the standards for a "public"
building -
> one of the reasons we have the stall toilets that we do.  We were not
> allowed to have regular residential bathrooms because of the use of the
> building.  As far as the city is concerned, we are a public building, same
> for the pool, etc.  We are following all of those requirements.
> --eileen
> -----Original Message-----
> From: normangauss [at] [mailto:normangauss [at]]
> Sent: Monday, December 13, 2004 11:22 PM
> To: Developing cohousing - collaborative housing communities
> Subject: [C-L]_ Is the Common House a Public Building?
> Does anybody know whether California regulations for public buildings
> to cohousing common houses?
> We have a kitchen that serves public meals.  We have restrooms that serve
> groups of visitors.  We have guestrooms in which visitors are lodged.  Are
> these kinds of facilities considered "public" and therefore expected to be
> held to standards set by the state government?
> Norm Gauss
> Oak Creek Commons Cohousing
> Paso Robles, CA  93446
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